The Future of Media Buying: The Twitter Edition

Every few weeks, this column will examine the future of media buying based on advertising opportunities that exist yet still haven’t realized their full potential.

First up: Twitter. How the service will ultimately generate enough revenue and the effectiveness of its still limited advertising model remain hot topics. But there may already be some unconventional ways for interactive media buyers to promote their clients’ products there.

The secret lies in finding the right users with which to partner, and leveraging their reach and brand.

By way of example, let’s look at the recent headline-grabbing story about “Mad Men” on Twitter. If you aren’t familiar with what unfolded between the award-winning AMC original drama series and the social media service, here’s the short of it. Last year, Twitter users (and “Mad Men” fans) started noticing that someone was opening and maintaining Twitter accounts on behalf of the show’s leading characters. The related tweets were so consistent with the characters and the show’s 1960s New York setting that at first it seemed to many the accounts were the work of AMC marketing pioneers. It was soon revealed, however, that fans had established @don_draper, @peggyolson, @betty_draper, and others.

AMC’s first reaction was to have Twitter suspend the accounts based on the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). Shortly afterward, though, the accounts were reinstated, thanks to some positive coaxing by AMC’s interactive marketing agency, Deep Focus.

Today the accounts live on, with the parties behind them tweeting poetic about everything from work duties to daily activities. At the recent SXSW Interactive Festival, those responsible for maintaining three of the more popular accounts spoke about their experiences and the lessons interactive marketers can learn from them.

Product Placement 2.0

One has to assume this is only the beginning of what could turn out to be a fascinating new online marketing trend. It’s not unlike the official character blogs like that of Dwight Schrute from NBC’s “The Office” and Peter Bretter, lead character from last year’s hit movie (and online promotional campaign “Forgetting Sarah Marshall.” These are ways for entertainment companies interested in extending their reach and further connecting with viewers to make a splash — and in this case also infiltrate Twitter’s walled garden.

But there’s more to advertising on Twitter than this. Enter the “tweet sponsorship,” what promises to happen when product placement meets social media.

Advertising With Character

Imagine a character like “Man Men” 1960s stereotypical wife Betty Draper tweeting about baking an upside down cake to welcome husband Don Draper — the show’s lead character — home. The tweet itself is relevant and true to Betty Draper’s fictional life (in fact, a similar tweet was delivered by one of the Betty Twitter fan accounts currently in action). Here lies an opportunity for AMC to approach an advertiser that can add even more realism to the post. The result would be something like this:

    Baking a chocolate cake for Sally’s birthday, with a whole Nestle bar for the occasion. My little girl is really growing up.

For an advertiser like Nestlé, such a sponsorship would underline its long history as a leading candy maker that was even popular 40 years ago. Twitter’s 140 character limitation might actually benefit both advertiser and consumer, as it would require that only the most germane information be imparted on account followers, thus forcing marketers to respect the primary purpose of the posts.

You can probably think of dozens of examples that would work beautifully for this type of ad placement given existing product mentions on your favorite TV shows: “The Office’s” Dwight talks about his stint working at Staples a few years back; the cast of “Grey’s Anatomy” crediting Starbuck’s with their ability to make it through those long shifts. Product placements on the small screen could easily be translated to Twitter through accounts set up in the likeness of show characters, typically offering far more flexibility than a drama like “Mad Men” that’s set in a limiting era. (The concept has business-to-business applications as well: event sponsors mentioned in conference-related tweets, record companies negotiating a mention in their artists’ tweets, and so on).

Some Twitter users are sure to abhor this idea, largely because it encroaches on the authenticity that the medium still enjoys. Certainly such an ad placement would have to be applied carefully and in moderation. But if the medium can support fictional characters, and those characters can actually draw thousands of followers, fans could very well be receptive to advertising that enhances the Twitter storyline.

Is it only a matter of time before product placement within Twitter tweets becomes commonplace? Or will this opportunity fizzle even before the fuse is lit? Post your comments, and contact me with your own future media buying trends for an upcoming column.

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